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Why TV wrestling is in trouble

The WWF’s rival needs to improve if it’s going to survive, says Kristen Baldwin

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Why TV wrestling is in trouble

As a wrestling fan, I think it’s time for someone to put the WCW out of its tired, boring, unoriginal misery and just close the league down already. That doesn’t seem likely, however, as it’s hotly rumored right now that Time Warner (EW.com’s parent company) may sell the WCW to Mandalay Sports Entertainment, who will make yet another attempt to revamp the struggling league. (A spokesperson for the WCW’s network, TNT, said ”no comment” about a potential sale.) After more than a year of makeovers, misfires, hirings, and firings, the WCW is in an even bigger mess than when it started its ratings nosedive in 1998.

Last September, as the league was putting viewers to sleep with old fashioned ”good versus evil” story lines and just plain old wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, president Eric Bischoff left. A month later the WCW hired Vince Russo, the wildly successful writer from WCW’s rival, the World Wrestling Federation. Hopes were high that this coup would be enough to bring the league out of the olden days of wrasslin’ and into the modern era of ”sports entertainment.”

And it did, for a while. The plotlines on ”Nitro” and ”Thunder” became more outrageous, the characters became more multifaceted, old timers like Hogan and Flair became sideliners instead of headliners, and T&A became a regular feature on the heretofore conservative (relative to WWF, of course) shows. In short, Russo was doing exactly what he was hired to do: make the WCW more like the highly rated WWF.

But about a month later, all of the changes stopped, and somebody — whether it was network execs, WCW suits, or both — clearly started reining Russo in, and before long it was back to conventional storylines, old school wrestlers, and boring business as usual. Russo left for a while, then returned, but he’s still not being allowed to take the WCW to the twisted, clever, salacious heights fans know he’s capable of. Perhaps if this sale goes through, the new owners will let Russo run wild, but at this point that seems like too much to hope for.

The real question is, Why even bother trying to resuscitate this dying league? (Have you seen ”Nitro” lately? The wrestlers are playing to half empty houses. It’s sad.) In 1995, when TNT put the WCW’s ”Nitro” on Monday nights against WWF’s ”Raw Is War,” the competition was a catalyst, pushing both leagues to be wilder, more creative, and ultimately better. Now, with the WWF so dominant both in the ratings and content categories, there’s no longer much point to the rivalry. (Extreme Championship Wrestling, however, continues to enhance the sport by serving as a kind of minor leagues for the WWF.) Maybe if the Mandalay deal goes through, they’ll be able to prove me wrong. But allow me to paraphrase the Rock: this wrestling fan thinks the WCW should know its role and shut its doors.